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The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?

By Claire Panosian Dunavan

Jared Diamond provides personal insights into his decades of field work in the Pacific Islands of New Guinea in an extensive interview about his latest book, which examines tribal societies’ approaches to universal human issues including, peace and war, child-rearing, treatment of the elderly, language, religion and health.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

DUNAVAN: “Was this your most personal book?”

DIAMOND: “Not just my most personal … but most practical book which people can use to modify their lives [in terms of] danger, bringing up children, getting older.”

DUNAVAN: “I want to hear about your first contact with a traditional society. What was it like?”

DIAMOND: “I grew up in Boston, my parents didn’t camp out, I had an unadventurous life. From a friend at Harvard I learned to camp out but neither of us had been to the tropics. After we both got our PhDs, and I returned to Boston, John and I immediately began asking ourselves: where can we go in the tropics? Our first trip was to Peru. Afterwards we said, ‘Peru was wonderful,’ now what’s the wildest, most adventurous place we can go? Of course it was New Guinea at the time. My dad had mentored and supervised Carleton Gadjusek who recognized kuru as an infectious disease. I had met Carleton and was fascinated by his stories ...”

“Before John and I went out there [in 1964], I was really naïve. I knew New Guineans were primitive people, meaning that they had primitive technology. I thought there would be something distinctive about their personality and cognition and so on—I fantasized for example, that New Guineans could read minds and that, in a few weeks, I could learn how to read minds. That just shows you how naïve I was.”

“My first...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene